Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This is Not a Post About Halloween

This is about running...or is it?

This is about my teammates. A battle is waiting for us. We can call it the last race of the season, but we all hope it is not.

Something big is at stake. We want to race again, we want to fly across the country and run next to the fastest girls in the nation. We want this. But do we really want this?

What do we really want?

I know what I want.

But first, I need to accept my failure. I need to embrace the idea that no, I will not race well. I will not walk away from that course satisfied. I need to come to terms with this fear, let it burn in my stomach, ache in my heart.

Teammates, we cannot shove our fear of failure somewhere deep down inside of us, and not expect it to roar up like an ugly monster in the last 800 meters of the race.

Accept the fear.

You will fail.

How does that settle inside of you?

We have done nothing but try to pump ourselves up and fill ourselves with positive thoughts. We have trained since the beginning of June. We have lifted two or three times each and every week, we have done workout after workout after workout. From an outside perspective, we have done everything necessary. Yet, regardless, deep within, we find the anxiety. It's waiting for us. It's trying to latch on.

You do not have it in you. You will not finish well.

Teammates, I dare you to say those words out loud. I dare you to let them into your conscious stream of thought. What does it leave you with?

They are a bitter taste in my mouth.

Yet, you cannot move on from here until you face your greatest fears. Because the reality is...

...this is not about you.

When you forget about yourself, you forget the fear within you. You forget about the twisted way your mind can slow you down. You cannot run for yourself. You must not think about yourself at all because your "self" in the race is not longer relevant. We all know coach's familiar phrase, "Run for God, run for your teammates." I believe this phrase goes far deeper than we realize.

When we stop worrying about ourselves, how we feel, our fear of failure, the dread of the unknown, we are free. Our mind begins to wrap around the race in a completely coherent, focused way. We stay in the race, our minds are capable of reaching forward, seeing the next girl ahead of us, and chasing after her. We don't falter and debate whether we have it in us. We have forgotten about us, we're just running.

We run.


Do you doubt this? Are you wondering how it is possible to run without thinking of yourself? Of course you must think of yourself, it's impossible not to. I would argue that it is possible. You can think only of the race, and pushing your body forward.

This is my hope for us all. A race is never easy. A race should never be easy. Yet, when you sacrifice yourself, forget about your comfort, and think only of the simple act of running, of moving forward--faster, never slower--you cannot be met by failure at the end.

Even if your final time wouldn't reflect it, at the end of the race, when you know that you did not run for yourself, that you sacrificed your comfort, left behind your fear, how can you walk away disappointed? How can you not be satisfied with the glory you surrendered to God? This is biblical stuff, teammates. Running a race is not a joke.

Run for yourself and you will inevitably fail.

Abandon yourself and in the end, you will find victory.

Do not run aimlessly.

It is about running...or is it?


Monday, October 29, 2012

What's a Person to Do...?

Life is not about the future. So why am I so caught up in what I will do someday?

Sometimes I envy the freedom of children. Children don't worry about their past or what is going to happen in their future.

I have compiled a list of things to help me organize my thoughts and live intentionally.


1. Creativity is a lifestyle (not to be choked out by other, less valuable styles of living). 

2. Live in the moment. This is your only reality. Yesterday does not exist. Tomorrow has never been. The moment you had ten minutes ago is gone forever. All you have is now.

If you must, devote 1 hour of your day to worry about your future and leave the other 23 hours free of any thoughts of tomorrow. 
3. Accumulate experiences, not things. 

4. Do not hold onto dreams and desires too tightly, yet still have faith in their possibility. 

5. Appreciate things you don't do (i.e., not spending money out of compulsion).

6. Give. Even when it hurts. 

7. Accept that growth comes from doing what is most difficult, not what is most desired.

8. Do not pursue happiness.

9. Pursue joy, which is not based on circumstances and comes from within. 

10. Look for things in life that would make a good story. 

11. Acquire a different perspective.

12. Think critically, never just accept the information provided for you. 

13. Never forget the power one person can have. 

14. Compliment others.

15. Do not worry about looking stupid (you know you're not stupid and that's what matters).

16. Make decisions. People are thankful for decisiveness. 

17. Don't waste thoughts. 

18. Drink tea.

19. Don't be ashamed of what you enjoy (i.e., classical music and reading books). 

20. Pray as often as possible. 

21. Take time to listen. 

22. Be slow to speak...

23. Find humor in people's rudeness. 

24. Mistakes do not define you, they refine you.  

25. Keep your notebook updated with the stupid and insightful thoughts that hit you throughout the day. 

26. Don't worry about rejection, embrace it.

27. Never be lazy. 

28. Being bored reflects on the type of person you are. Don't be a boring person and you won't get bored. 

29. Love people without expectation. 

30. Write.

     much as possible 
31. Travel.  

32. Come up with better things to live by. 


That's all for now. 


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Letters From Your Host (5)

I am attempting to do what C.S. Lewis did in "The Screwtape Letters", only I am going in the reverse, characterizing angels, not demons.

Dearest Company,

What a delighted to hear from you! We return our warmest greetings. We are overjoyed to see that you are doing well and have been staying in communication. Thank you for your reply.

It is to our understanding that you are discouraged with the responsibility you feel in ministering to others. You are afraid to pour time and energy into loving people because you seriously doubt your capability and their receptiveness. You remember in the past you have failed to witness any growth from the seeds you tried to plant, and as a result you are disheartened to venture out again.

Dearly beloved! Do not forget your purpose. Your purpose is not to find success--in anything. We will remind you again, you are not measured on the level of hearts you save, you cannot save anyone. No. Also, never forget that what you might consider defeat or victory your Father may see as something completely different.

What matters is that you remain faithful. Remain faithful in your relationships. Refuse to base your gratification on the change you see in others. It is not your responsibility to change them, only to remain faithful to what you are able to do today.

It is not right to take on the responsibility of another's salvation. If you believe it is your duty to convert the nations, then you will likewise believe it is to your credit they are converted. It is not. The credit belongs to God and God alone.

This does not mean you forget about the call of discipleship. By no means! You are indeed commanded to seek after the Kingdom. Yet, we warn you, be careful to what standard you would hold yourself. Do not discredit the situation you are in today as an opportunity. Do not wish you were somewhere else. The reality is you are not somewhere else, and you are called to be faithful in all circumstances. So love unconditionally, minister with no expectation. Remember it is  not your responsibility to make the seed grow, only to plant it. It is not your responsibility to make the sheep come, only to feed them. It is not your responsibility to change the world, only to remain faithful in it.

Be encouraged. Pride would have you believe your ministry aught to look just so, with these specific components, or else you are not pleasing God, and what you are doing is not truly ministry. Everything you do is ministry, beloved. Everything. If your heart truly drives you to reach the thousands, then by all means, reach them. But you will not, indeed, you cannot, until you are faithful in the small, thankless ministry he has called you to right now, in this place, at this hour.

We will not neglect to reply again soon.

God be with you always,
Your Host


Monday, October 22, 2012

Publication (?)


It's been a blast writing short stories and sharing my thoughts with you all. However! I've decided it's time for me to write for publication (outside the blog).

I will be doing a little research on the topic of strangers and the concept of "otherness." This means you will not see any blog posts from me for the majority of this week as I will be spending my mornings bringing the essay together. I'm really excited to see the final product, I hope you will be too.

Here are some good magazines to consider if you are also looking into publishing some of your work:

Caveat emptor!
{Taken from Poets & Writers Magazine}
Readers should be aware of publishers who charge, rather than pay, an author for publication; and contests that charge high reading fees. The magazine recommends that you see the publication and submission guidelines before submitting a manuscript; if you have questions regarding an advertiser's commitment to publication, please contact the advertiser directly.
invites submissions of essays, short stories, poems, and b&w photography. It's an open themed issue. See website: for submission guidelines. Submission period ends November 1. Include your email and USPS address.

"Best New Online Literary Journal," features writers in fiction, "fact," and poetry. Always looking for new voices. For submission information and guidelines, visit

(formerly Karamu)
is accepting submissions for Spring 2013 print issue and for our online quarterly issues. Submit unpublished poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and drawings online at our new website See website for guidelines.

Happy publishing! You will hear from me sometimes within the next week.

Yours truly,

Friday, October 19, 2012

Of What I Cannot See

"The carving of the jack 'o lantern," he explained, "represents the cross-cultural incident of three nations--the Indian family, the Pakistani man, and an American tradition--coming together in an intentional way."

The class remained quiet.

"See, the Indian girl had never carved a pumpkin before, neither had Mr. Pirzada. They were trying to embrace this different culture, even though they did not feel America was truly their home. India an Pakistan were at war with each other at the time, but in America, this didn't matter, they were taking on the American way. The carving of the pumpkin together was a symbol of unity."

There are moments in my life, more often than I'd care to admit, when I feel dumb. There are several instances on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:05-3:30 that I certainly do not feel intelligent.

I looked at the title of the book, making sure I read the right story. I admit I did remember reading about the pumpkin, but never once did I imagine it was anything more than a carved pumpkin. A symbol of unity? What if the author just wanted the characters to carve a pumpkin together? How do we know it was anything more than that?

This is my multi-cultural literature class. This is the place where I feel dumb.

He went on to talk about the significance of the candy and the witch costumes. My brain was exploding. I liked the story, but I hadn't thought about what the jack 'o lantern, or the candy, or the Halloween costumes represented, not once. Apparently, they had significant symbolic meaning.

I suddenly felt anxious. It bothered me that I had so completely failed to notice the significance of these details.

To overlook literature is one thing, but what else do I miss? Not just while reading brilliant stories that could be unpacked for an hour and a half, revealing world-shaking truths about Indian and Pakistani culture, but in life in general. What don't I see?

Reader, life can be mundane, yes? Life can feel meaningless.

Perhaps it is.

I mentioned in a previous blog post from this summer that I was reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. From what I gathered, the point the author made in his book was there is no point. He seemed to insult the classics, deeming all of the symbolism authors build around their novels as ridiculous.   

It would seem the power of the pointless has found its way into the newest additions of "classic" literature today. Could this be the general opinion of the late 20th and early 21st century? Is this the newest voice, not only in modern literature, but society as a whole? Is there power in pointlessness? 

Contemplating, there I sat in my multi-cultural literature class, at liberal arts university, receiving a classical education, learning about the symbolism of jack 'o lanterns and candy corn. 

What if your life was a novel. What would it mean when you drop your apple and it bruises, or when you trip on the third step going to your room, or how about when you put chicken on your sandwich instead of turkey? 

Maybe I am mocking symbolism a little. I shouldn't be. I know that it is both powerful and necessary. I also know that I am not good at finding it, or articulating its significance. Learning to see the magnificent in the mundane is never an easy thing. Yet, perhaps in time I will find the value in searching. 

Nadeem Aslam“Pull a thread here and you’ll find it’s attached to the rest of the world.” 

― Nadeem AslamThe Wasted Vigil

Stephen King
“Symbolism exists to adorn and enrich, not to create an artificial sense of profundity.”
― Stephen KingOn Writing

Sigmund Freud
“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
― Sigmund Freud


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Sunday Afternoon in an Art Gallery

I met someone this weekend. Someone who inspired me. I was at a senior art show on campus. What better place to find inspiration? The art pieces were exquisite. As I walked from frame to frame in the gallery, I felt overwhelmed. Perhaps due to of my own hectic lifestyle, and thinking about the things that constantly demand my attention, I was particularly overwhelmed by how much time was evidently poured into each piece.

I'm well aware that with art, time must stop. When attempting to truly capture something, there can be no time limit, only a finished product. As I leaned in close to pencil drawings, taking in every detail, every careful, disciplined stroke of lead, I had to wonder at the precision of it all. I wondered if anybody else thought of paintings and drawings in the context of time; what endurance it must require to hold the mind inside the wrist bones, thumb and index finger long enough to render, not just anything, but something so very complicated, from nothing.

I realized there was no absolute way of knowing the product would turn out as hours were invested into a single canvas. How many pieces had the students thrown away and started over again before reaching the final solution? Skill was evident here, but what of time? Time had to be a factor in the excellence, too.

I noticed the gallery held several pictures of elderly people. I admired the way the students applied the deeply set lines on the subjects' features. These faces seemed to tell stories. Old stories. There was one elderly portrait that I remember in particular. The piece was a black and grey water-based stipple (hundreds of tiny ink dots). It was brilliantly done. As my eyes moved away from the frame, I noticed an elderly woman standing, poised, with one arm extended, holding a cane. She was examining the watercolor-stipple image as well. After a moment, the connection dawned on me. They were identical--the old woman next to me was staring at her own reflection of paper and ink; she was the subject of the portrait. There was no doubting it, both had the same soft, fluffy hair, the same oval rimmed glasses, and perfectly matched creases in their facial features.

By Annie Palasinski
Strangely enough, I had heard about this woman before. She was a well known member of the community. Several of the other students at the show knew her personally. Later on that afternoon, after their initial prompting, I had the privilege of meeting her. As I looked into her face, all I could think of was her portrait. Every detail was there: the curve in her lips when she grinned, the little freckle on her left eyelid, and the delicately indented wrinkles everywhere. Her name was Ruth. I did my best to introduce myself, but she couldn't quite grasp my name. We laughed about it, I tried to explain it was normal, people had trouble with it all the time. With a warm smile, she took my hand in both of hers and said, "Now that we've met, you need to come over and visit me. I just love it when the students come by to visit." She went on to explain where she lived, that it was the blue house, not the yellow one, and also not to mind the dog who just wanted to be petted and told she is beautiful.

As I reflect back on this conversation, I wonder why I was so encouraged by a single brief interaction. Maybe it is more the idea of her that I am impressed by. Ruth was elderly. She held a certain other-wordly grace about her. Or maybe I am romanticizing too much.

I tend to mystify things. I take first impressions of people and places, and make them seem better than they really are. I idealize, I get excited for no justifiable reason, like a little girl.

Ruth was just an elderly woman. There was nothing inherently special about her. I suppose growing old is not something to look forward to, with more and more medical complications, the body beginning to ache all over, even the mind slipping away. That is the reality of life.

I know this, but I want to believe there is something more.

Something more...beautiful.

Now, I could say Ruth's sweet refinement was like the paintings and drawings hung in that gallery, a captivating product from an unthinkable length of time; but I won't. I could also say that her character, her inner joy, and her warm ora of hospitality are a cumulation of tiny, intentional choices she has made throughout her life, like small brush strokes. Yet I can't say that either. That would be too quaint. It is cliche to use the "life is a blank canvas" metaphor. This is elementary, like saying: our smallest choices in life are the individual strokes of our true identity; combined, they make up the final product of who we are. No, certainly I couldn't say any of this.

No, Ruth is simply Ruth. I nice old lady I happened to meet at an art show. I mustn't go trying to make it into anything else. I mustn't try to see the beauty, that would be childish.


What to make of her then? Ruth, closer to her own knowledge of death than any of us, and yet far more joyful regardless. No one can tell me that is not magnificent. No one can convince me there is no beauty in that--the courage it must take to face each day with joy despite the discomfort of growing old. Reader, can you imagine? No, you cannot. You cannot unless you are old.

Someday I will be able to show you these mundane yet magnificent details of life. Eventually, I will give a deeper understanding, I will give you the truth. Perhaps it's my own restriction of time, or lack of ability that limits me right now. Yet, I hope to help you one day to see what is not there, what is not written plain and obvious.

Maybe one day we will not need the blank canvas metaphor and you will understand what makes Ruth so beautiful.
“Truth has to be given in riddles. People can't take truth if it comes charging at them like a bull. The bull is always killed. You have to give people the truth in a riddle, hide it so they go looking for it and find it piece by piece; that way they learn to live with it.”― Chaim PotokThe Gift of Asher Lev

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Saturday Evening Update

From my desk to yours: The Saturday Evening Update. 
Dear Readers:

1. I don't know what to write about today.

2. I know what I will write soon, I just don't want to start yet.

3. I miss taking pictures and posting them on my blog.

4. I added another essay to the "my work" tab.

5. It's been raining all day and I have consumed a lot of green tea (I tell you this not only because it is true, but also because it makes me sound sweet. Obviously, sophisticated people drink green tea on rainy days).


Color right out of the box! 

7. I hope you are enjoying my blog and the short stories I have written recently.

8. I'm going to post pictures of friends and the beautiful leaves soon, before they all fall off their branches (the leaves, not my friends).

9. That's all I got.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Letters From Your Host (4)

I am attempting to do what C.S. Lewis did in "The Screwtape Letters", only I am going in the reverse, characterizing angels, not demons.

Our Dearest Company,

We have not heard from you in a while. We trust you are doing well. 

We are under the impression you are frustrated with your life. Particularly, you are frustrated with God. Is this your way of punishing Him? Do you distance yourself out of frustration, grief, or whatever this reason is that you have not been in communication? 

Or rather, are you frustrated by yourself, because you know you are doing something wrong, and you don't want to face Him with it? What is the reason for your silence? Are you too busy? Are you apathetic? Do you even realize the two of you have not spoken for a great length of time? 

You pray, yes, but your mouth is like a religious puppet, being opened and closed by the strings of tradition, those strings are not attached to your heart and therefore your prayers seem empty. 

Perhaps you have forgotten the kind of relationship the two of you share. How easy it is for you to forget. You are terribly forgetful. He is not just a polite acquaintance you tend to speak friendly hellos to from time to time. This is not just a nice relationship with a good friend. 

You are in love with God. 

Must we remind you? God is not human. He is not like you. He does not think like you, understand the world the same way you do, or submit to anyone or anything besides Himself. For a lack of better words, God is wild and dangerous. He is not domesticated in the way you would like to believe He is, he does not fit into any one idea, He is infinitely beyond the god you understand. 

Imagine the shiny golden star sticker your teacher put on your math test in third grade. This is your understanding of God. Now think of the sun, 92,960,000 miles away, 9900 °F on the surface, 27 million °F at the core. This is God. Hold them up side by side in your mind: the sticker and the sun. 

Are you beginning to understand now? Do not fool yourself. You will understand Him best by recognizing you do not understand Him. Yet, the fact still stands: the two of you are in love. 

Remember your golden sticker understanding: you imagine God to be incredible, magnificent, awe-inspiring (even when you are frustrated with Him). Now, take everything you know about Him, and multiply it 27 million times. Does this not excite you? Does this not steal your breath away? 

There is so much more than you could possibly imagine about who this Deity really is. We are frustrated by your inept language and its lack of ability to communicate this truth to you. Yet, what a privilege it is for you to have an eternity to find out more.  

Eternity began the day you fell in love with Him. So, our dearly beloved, talk with Him; share everything, and above all, listen. He will begin to reveal Himself to you, one degree at a time. Of this you can be sure. 

Affectionately yours, 
Your Host


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Other Half

You knew I had to write about it eventually: relationships. Particularly those between a guy and a girl. Buckle up. This could be a wild ride.

Romantic relationships are an inevitable part of life for most of us. According to the experts, who you marry will determine 90% of your happiness. I guess I'll let you decided whether or not that is actually true.

On that note, let me just say I really admire Glen Hansard's music. I'm going to use his lyrics to explain my thoughts. He is probably most famous for his song, "Falling Slowly".

Here's the first few lines of the song: 

I don't know you
But I want you
All the more for that 

It is the great mystery of the "other", the unknown personality. They could be anybody. At first, all you have is a face, a physique, and maybe a conversation. In your head, you are able to attribute countless wonderful qualities to this person. Inevitably, they are dashing, magnificent, brilliant, charming, invigorating. They bring out the best in you. You see yourself as a better person if you could be with them. It is at these [magical?] times of love that the gender groups in our society breach the social gap, they are willing to fuse last!

But wait...

I must admit, I am a critic of love. Feel free to shake your finger at me. I'm not a hater, just very critical. I admit, I've been a skeptic all my life. Maybe I'm too much of a realist. I believe there is danger in the expectations we put on relationships. Are we all really a "sinking boat" like Hansard refers to later in his song? Do we need someone else to guide us home, to keep us from reaching the rocky depths of the figurative ocean

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We've still got time
Raise your hopeful voice you had a choice
You've made it now

Well, it's possible. It's possible love can prevent you from...sinking. Gosh, I love these analogies. But what if love doesn't? Or, what happens if it stops doing that for you? What if the beautiful mystery of the person is solved, and we are left with "eh...".

If your life is anything like mine, you've grown up hearing that relationships and marriage should be all about the other person. Period. No exceptions. No excuses. But we like being how does that work?

I'm not married, but this is how I understand it: There is no perfect person for you out there. I'll go ahead and pop the destiny bubble. No matter who you end up with, nobody is going to reflate your sinking boat completely. This isn't news for any of us (I hope).

So what? I submit we start by taking a different perspective on relationships in general. What is this concept of "other"? Part of being in a relationship, being married, is about seeing yourself in that person. It's about letting that person become so much a part of who you are, you would not do anything to that person you would not do to yourself because they are you. Or at least, that's the way you see it.

Doesn't this sound familiar? What's the Golden Rule again? Maybe we're on to something...

This might help counteract our selfishness a little. Being in a relationship, getting married, is like adding an extension to yourself. So you better choose wisely, right? Right. That's not funny.

Single people: Perhaps you see yourselves as sinking vessels needing to be rescued. You're lonely, after all. Being alone sounds like an awful idea.

But doesn't adding one sinking boat to another sinking boat equal two sinking boats? Or are there roles here, the savior and the...savee (save-ee); the one who does the saving and the one who needs to be saved? If that's the case, which is which? Who gets to decide? 

Like I said, I'm very critical. 

All I know is I can't save anyone. I'll burn out real fast. And this is true vice-versa, no one could save me either. If you're sinking, and I'm sinking, and there's no one to guide us home.....did I mention divorce rates yet?  

So what? Even if we do change our perspective, what difference does it make? If our goal is to "self-actualize", to become the best we can humanly be (by the way, this shouldn't be the goal), getting rid of this extended "self" might be the smartest step. Again, divorce rates...

Is this where I should bring up the Bible? Is the answer Jesus...or is it a squirrel...? 

I'm going to leave you with this quote: 
The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether [even the extended self i.e. life-partner]. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters...The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself [the life-partner-self too], and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death [yours and theirs], death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing [whatever expectation, hope, or standard you are holding in regard to that life-partner of yours]. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself [you know who], and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”- By C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity
Give up your other self. Your husband. Your wife. Whoever. It is only when you stop holding these ideals for them (as we often hold for ourselves), these wants, longings, desires of what they could fulfill if only...

Let that die. Replace it with Christ. Because, you see, if you are in fact truly Christ's, then, when you look for yourself in a relationship, it is not really you at all, it is Christ (because your life is Christ's, every single part). In order for you to see them in light of who they were meant to be, you must put Christ there. When you look for Christ in them, you will find Him.

and with Him everything else thrown in. 


Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Tin Man

Inspired by "Heartless", the story of the Tin Man. PLEASE Watch this! It's worth it, especially the ending will really hit you. I promise, it's worth your time. If you don't have time to watch the whole thing, start at 9 minutes 30 seconds.  

"This may be beyond my ability
to repair..." You look into the
mechanic's eyes; seas unsettled by
the tossing and turning of concern,
pleading, yet still knowing his tin refining 

cannot fix this part. You did not know 
your axe was cursed. It cut you down,
each time the mechanic treated flesh 
with tinBut have no heart.

You forget why you are working.
You leave your wake of fallen trees, 
logs pile over an abandoned cabin---
the home is left unfinished. She's there. 
She's waiting, still wanting, still loving 
the man in the metal coat. To touch 
is coldness, painful. How can she kiss 
iron gates barred shut? Forgotten, she 
moves on through the forest of fallen trees.

The latch is shut. The empty hollow never 
waits. You cannot feel the rain run down 
your face, or hear your tin bones gnashing, 
groaning, vibrating through the leaves. 
Finally, the rust holds you. There is no 
reaching for the oil can by your side. 
Rigid, lost within this steel casket, 
time forgets you, silences your existence, 
wanes your life away.

Now motionless, her memories
sing to you. As you stand, eyes
yielding up, feet rooted in the ground.
All you see is a forest of trees fallen,
rotting away like the memory of you.
You remember your beloved as you
notice the vines crawl from the earth
and wrap their veiny fingers around
your legs, your arms, your neck.

You wait and listen for the rhythm.
This hole in your chest moans in ways 
no words could hope to manifest. 
But what of the story?
Is this the fate of the man of tin? 
What of the little red shoes? 
What of the yellow brick road? 
Take heart my friend,
take heart.    



Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Of Men and Leaves

"You're going to want to put socks on." Dad said.

Immediately I was suspicious. Why did I need to wear socks?

"Nah, I'll be fine."

He insisted, "No, you can't wear shoes in the house, you don't want to go barefoot."

We were going to visit Grandpa. I was nervous. I went to the laundry room and found a pair of clean socks. It didn't matter, I'd wear the dumb socks. I hadn't seen Grandpa since his "turn for the worse" as Mom phrased it. I knew he wasn't the same man I remembered. I knew things would be different. I told myself it would be fine, he was still my grandpa after all. Yet, in the back of my head I questioned everything, would things really be fine? Should they be?

Grandpa had moved. He was too much for Grandma now, they had found a special place for him to stay with 24 hour care. I knew I should think this was best for both of them, yet part of me didn't know what to think of this at all. Part of me was still wondering why I needed to wear socks, and what the necessity of socks meant.

While we were driving we talked of the new kittens in the garage, the pretty shades the leaves were turning, how nice it was to have the windows down, and what brand of dog food we needed at the store, but not of Grandpa. Never once did we mention Grandpa. I was nervous.

We found the house. The van stopped on the side of the road, I followed everyone else inside the long, brick house. To my relief, it didn't smell bad. It smelled okay, like houses are supposed to smell, maybe not good, but not bad either. Straight ahead I saw two elderly women in the living room, lounging in big chairs, dressed in pajamas and slippers. One lady held a huge cat with blue eyes and a dark face. After taking our shoes off, we headed in to join them.

And there was Grandpa.

For a second my heart dropped. Yes, this was Grandpa, but smaller, swallowed up by a wheelchair. When he finally heard us, he turned his face. Yes, this was Grandpa, soft blue eyes and crooked grin. Yes, yes...this was Grandpa. Everybody was being too happy, too loud. I understood why this was necessary, why the circumstances called for this. Still I didn't like it. I also was being very happy and very loud.

"Hi Grandpa, it's good to see you!" I felt like I was shouting, but if he noticed, he didn't seem to mind. He reached out his hand, I took it.

"Well..." he looked genuinely pleased, "Danae..." His eyes met mine, searching for approval. He remembered my name. After a moment, Grandpa turned to my dad who had knelt down beside him. My dad looked so different next to this man, so incredibly young.

Grandpa reached out his hand and began patting Dad's back. He tried to say something, but no one was able to understand. We all nodded dumbly in agreement.

"Would you like to see his room?" The caretaker was there. Her name was Heidi. Automatically, I began assessing her. I noticed her hair, died red, and the tattoo on her ankle. I also noticed she wore bare feet.

We took the breaks off of Grandpa's wheelchair and wheeled him into the other part of the house. His room was huge. The carpet was new and freshly vacuumed. He had an enormous window at one end, letting the warm afternoon sun fall in. The greater part of one wall was covered by a white poster, it read, "Your Family Welcomes You, Tom", in fancy black letters. It was a good room, very acceptable.

Heidi offered Dad and I a tour of the rest of the house, we followed her from one end to the other. She opened the door to a room that looked exactly like Grandpa's. There was the window, same size. The carpet, same new color.

"This room is empty now, the resident passed just last week." Heidi explained. I silent alarm went off in my head, it finally clicked in my brain: people pay to die here.

There was a three-layered shelf by the door that still held at least a dozen little picture frames of this dead woman and her family. I bent over to look closely at them. This woman could've been anybody, I thought. No, in fact, she was everybody, she represented all of humankind one day: old, dead. Maybe Grandpa was going to die here too; actually, yes, he probably was.

It was only a matter of time.

We finished the tour and returned to Grandpa's room. Heidi left us to visit with him. Grandpa began talking to Dad, his words were incoherent and garbled together, making no sense. Still, we sat and listened. I knew that voice. I knew that husky, deep, warm voice. His voice brought memories back. Memories of the whole extended family gathered around the dinner table before a mind-blowing holiday feast, all joining hands, and Grandpa's deep, scratchy voice lifting us up in prayer. Or on Christmas, when we were all gathered in the basement, sitting next to the artificial tree overwhelmed with lights, garland, tinsel, and ornaments, nearly hidden by the mountain of presents, he would read the Christmas story out loud from the book of Matthew. I knew that voice, it was the voice I grew up with; bickering with Grandma (never very successfully), talking to Dad and my uncles about "specks up north", and who was working on such-and-such a job way over in East Grand Rapids, and "did you see the spread of that place", etcetera.

It began sink in, I would no longer see that man. Those memories were past, the new ones would be here, in this house with this smaller version of my grandfather. It hit me that I'd never hear Grandpa pray again, or read the Christmas story. He would never talk to his sons in the builder jargon I never followed, or bicker with Grandma anymore. Sometimes he would hold his head in his hands, pain etched in the lines of his face, as if he knew.

I should've been happy, just like everyone else was being happy, laughing, talking, talking far too loud. I couldn't help the restriction in my throat, the tears weren't there, but I was fighting them down. Seeing his small frame there did something to me, it interrupted the normalcy.

Time seemed to stop here. The million things that had to be done no longer mattered. Nothing mattered, seeing Grandpa was like an out-of body experience where the the reality of growing old and dying was looking me straight in the face.

I excused myself and escaped to the patio behind the house. The tears came then, not convulsing, not face distorting or body lurching, just tears, followed by excessive sniffling. It was one of the most beautiful fall days I could remember. The air was still warm, the sun felt welcoming on my face. I noticed it was an elegant patio, with a huge lattice hanging above, covered by a finely-woven screen, and large slabs of multicolored stone spread underneath. It was almost seventy degrees probably, but I could smell autumn. The leaves were dying in that magnificent way leaves do at that time of year, catching on fiery colors of red, orange and yellow.

It was the end of a season. Now, days later, as I write this, removed from the scene, sitting at my desk at college, it seems cliche to compare Grandpa's life to autumn, to the way leaves die and everything alive goes into hiding until spring, until "rebirth". Yet, in the moment there was nothing cliche to speak of. As I smelled the dried out, dying leaves, as I listened to the wind run through them, and watched a handful fall to the ground, I understood a simple truth, yet a truth nonetheless. Our lives are made up of seasons. Each one, a generation, forever overlapping, moving, changing. Sometimes the transitions can be hard, usually we don't want to let go of one season in order to embrace the next. Sometimes seasons come suddenly without much overlap, sometimes they're gradual and we get to ease into them. Seasons must change in order for life to continue, in order for new birth and regeneration to have a chance. This is the way of life, the way of men and leaves.

For this truth, I am thankful. For the memories I share with my grandfather, I am more thankful still. For the hope of spring, I am thankful most of all.